Anorexia, Bulimia and Bingeing are not just about food and eating.
For most people, these illnesses are manifestations of much deeper issues to do with emotion and the self.
Young people struggling with an eating disorder are often struggling with issues to do with the self and embracing their authentic self and emotions. Often these problems are the result of early failures in development, where the authentic self has been stymied or repressed in response to environmental pressures.
According to theorist and clinician Charles Stewart, eating disorders are often the result of intense emotional pain associated with early experiences of feeding and eating.
These experiences were unable to be integrated into the developing self of the infant or young child. This lack of integration also impacts the body’s own natural responses to food, eating and satiety - people with eating disorders lose touch with their own hunger AND their own feelings of fullness or satiety. They often feel alienated from their own bodies and from the self-acceptance and body love that comes from understanding and listening to our own natural urges, desires and responses.
Of course, our society as a whole makes it hard for young women to develop these good skills of self-nurturance and acceptance. Body-image is a huge issue for most young women and with the rise of visual culture through social media, our standards for beauty become more and more difficult to achieve without the intervention of photoshop, Instagram filters and at the extreme end, plastic surgery.
That is why I believe that most eating disorders are an expression of fundamental issues to do with identity and the development of the self.
How can psychotherapy help?
My approach with eating disorder therapy is to look at the issues underlying the behaviours.
Psychotherapy helps untangle the mess of feelings that have caused the behaviours associated with eating disorders. By gently exploring the underlying issues, a caring and empathetic psychotherapist will help you understand yourself and the reasons for your fraught relationship with food.
Your emotions are important.
In treating you I will be helping you to understand yourself, encouraging you to develop self-awareness and acceptance. This will allow you to validate and process your feelings so that you no longer need to use food to punish or reward yourself or to control your emotions.